Dave Hill: London Mayor 2024 – the shape of the race

Dave Hill: London Mayor 2024 – the shape of the race

With just over three weeks until polling day, we’ve reached that stage in any election campaign when journalists and quite a few campaigners are growing tired of candidates’ familiar lines, but voters have just begun to pay attention.

Sadiq Khan will hope this helps more than it hinders him. Seeking a historic third term, apathy is his potential Achilles heel in a Labour-leaning city where Conservatism as a whole is deeply unpopular: the apathy of those who would normally vote for him but have either gone off him or will decide they can’t be arsed to because he’s going to win anyway.

Turnout, perhaps even more than usual, is going to be crucial. An unnamed insider quoted in the Spectator said that if it’s above 35 per cent, Khan will win and if it’s below, his Conservative rival Susan Hall will. If, for the sake of argument, we take that judgement as correct it confirms Khan as favourite.

Only once has the turnout figure figure been lower than 35 per cent, and then only just. That was the 34.4 per cent of 2000, the first mayoral election ever. Even the Covid-affected contest of 2021 mustered 42 per cent, which was not as far below the highest-ever 46 per cent of 2016 some had feared.

Yet anxiety in the Khan camp remains. There seems every chance that, like Ken Livingstone in 2012, the candidate will do less well than his party in the parallel London Assembly elections. And like her party nationally, Hall’s campaign, run from Tory HQ, is targeting Khan personally, bad-mouthing him as much as possible.

Her message is metronomic, negative, crafty, catastrophist and clear: ULEZ, crime, ULEZ, crime, pay-per-mile scare story, more ULEZ, more crime. Like her London-loathing kindred spirit Nigel Farage, Hall is presenting herself as the voice of, to use his words, “ordinary, decent people”. She seems to scent a Brexity discontent, a burgeoning urge to shock the London Labour power establishment that she can feed off.

For all her “listening” spiel, Hall has been kept as far away as possible from hearing difficult questions while the usual array of tame journalists presents her misleading stats and WhatsApp rumours as facts. Lying leaflets are being shoved through letterboxes, pretending not to be Tory propaganda. Same story as with Shaun Bailey, 2021.

Hall is communicating directly only through social media, an ideal platform to spit blood from while cracking yourself up as the “common sense” solution to everything you insist is terrible. But she has yet to reveal any plans for public transport fares other than restoring morning peak free travel for over-60s, the only age group, according to opinion polls, that prefers her to Khan. That change would have to be paid for. How? Will we learn such things from her manifesto? Will she even publish one?

Khan, meanwhile, has been soaring aloft, following up his Keir Starmer big launch with appearances with shadow home Secretary Yvette Cooper and shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, joining himself at the hip to the prospect of a Labour government in the near future, and with it more police officers and a growth plan for more jobs. The nearest Hall has come to having a national big name Tory at her side is Claire Coutinho in an Uxbridge car park.

The contrasts continue. Hall can’t mention Khan’s name enough. He refers to her only as “the hard right Tory candidate”. Hall’s campaign HQ, the Spectator tells us, is proudly ticking off places she has visited in person. That type of pavement politics is not an option for Khan, with so many nameless people telling him they want him dead. He has, though, spoken at an Open Itfar Ramadan event in Trafalgar Square, along with Jewish community leaders.

He’s conducting an “air war” wooing of his past-winning coalition: fellow progressives, EU citizens, the inner city Labour heartlands, the inner-outer “middle London” zone where he lost most support last time, London’s anti-Tory majority in general. That doesn’t mean he lacks a “ground game“. In London, Labour doorstep and phone bank activists far outnumber Tory ones. The question is, are voters enthused?

Elsewhere on the landscape, Liberal Democrat Rob Blackie, Green Zoë Garbett and Reform UK’s Howard Cox are battling to get words in edgeways as the noise about the frontrunners grows louder. None of them are going to win the mayoral race, but all are on their parties’ lists for London Assembly seats and all stand a chance of getting one.

Blackie is making his own case about the Met and crime, as well as transport and housing, along with insisting that the Conservatives are kaput – a counter to Khan’s “two horse race” metaphor and a signal to moderate Tories put off by Hall.

Garbett’s Green manifesto launch had a left protest quality, with talk of sticking up for “workers” and black youngsters harassed by police. In past mayoral elections there have been far left fringe candidates. Voters drawn to that territory, along with people on the left disappointed in Starmer, might respond to those messages. Garbett has turned up to every hustings so far, which can only be called commendable.

Cox, in line with Reform UK nationally, is lambasting Hall with “clipped” videos and other misrepresentations as blatant as those she makes about Khan. Right populism isn’t pretty, though it’s amusing to see rival practitioners wrestling in the same sewer.

We are approaching the point in April when, three years ago, Khan’s opinion polls leads started to become less huge. Is the same thing going to happen again? We will know before too long.

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Categories: Comment


  1. Jenny says:

    So scrapping ULEZ, tripling bobbies on the beat and affordable housing is right wing campaigning from the gutter. ????

    1. Dave Hill says:

      Yes it is. Howard Cox could suspend and eventually scrap the ULEZ were he elected Mayor – which is highly unlikely – but he has yet to explain how he would fund tripling “bobbies on the beat” without a very large rise in Council Tax or by removing police officers from other duties, such as solving murders and the like. It’s a figure picked out of the air. And there is no way he would triple the supply of affordable housing without getting a very large sum of extra money from national government. I don’t fancy his chances.

  2. Philip Virgo says:

    Mayor Khan is promising to increase police numbers and blames Tory cut for the current situation. So why did he fail to claim £72 million on offer from the Home Office? Was it because it would to be used to deliver results and not just publicity?

    1. Dave Hill says:

      Mark Rowley said it was difficult to get the recruits they wanted because of pay levels and Met reputational problems. Policing researcher Gavin Hales has since pointed out that there were, in fact, plenty of applicants. This raises the possibility that a lot of them weren’t up to scratch – and the Met is very much *not* in the business of lowering its standards right now!

      It’s interesting to speculate about whether the Met would have recruited more officers had there been a different Mayor in City Hall and, if so, whether that would have improved the standard of Met policing.

  3. Philip Virgo says:

    We also need to ask what the Mayor (and other candidates) will do differently in order to deliver on their current promises to recruit more officers, including from London’s diverse communities of residents, without compromising standards.

    Wayne Couzens joined the Met Police, without going through enhanced vetting or mandatory probation, in 2018.

    Around 500 other officers who similarly joined the Met under Mayor Khan have been “let go” over the past year as part of a mass re-vetting process which is also causing major delays in the processing of new applicants.

    Any promises to expand the number of police need to be accompanied by statements as to how the recruitment and vetting processes will be changed in order to better select those who can and should serve as warranted Met Police officer or volunteers.

    We also attract rather larger numbers to serve as unwarranted community police volunteers … in roles that have been all but wiped out under the current mayor.

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